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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
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I am a European national, living and working in the UK years

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I am a European national, living and working in the UK for 18 years now, and I need legal advice on a very bad situation at work.I am requesting Ben Jones hoping that he might remember advising me a few months ago.Thanks
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 1 year ago.

Hello, my name is***** am a qualified lawyer and it is my pleasure to assist you with your question today.

Expert:  Ben Jones replied 1 year ago.

How can I help please?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Hi Ben, I have typed a rather long letter. Apologies for the wordiness, but I think it's best to tell the back story so you can get a better picture...I started my current job in October 2014, so I have been there for 1.5years. I work in an office environment and that is not a customer facing role.
To be honest, the first year was really good; I got on with everyone management seemed to be happy with me. On completion of my first year, I went to the Top Man asking for a performance/ pay review (talked first to my immediate manager, she said that she is happy with my performance; that I needed to go to the CEO as he’s the money man and he asked for her input she would back me up).
The CEO was very complimentary about my performance, said that I was very well liked within the company, that I was very good at what I do, good team player etc… and offered me a pay rise.
Next time I heard from them was about a week later; apparently someone complained about my behaviour/ attitude as well as the fact that a close co-worker (next desk to mine) and I speak our common native language at work (when no one who does not speak that language is part of the conversation).
I was called to the MD (a different person, although the CEO was in the room as well). She was quite horrible to me, saying that I don’t perform well, am difficult to work with (and that there loads of complaints), although well liked and perceived as a gentleman in social environments. It was basically a ‘don’t speak unless spoken to’ approach, she indicated that everyone is more senior than me (not true!) and she also instructed me to speak English at all times as speaking in a foreign language is rude, people get offended etc.
The whole situation was a big surprise to me and I was very careful as to what my responses were to any of the things said. I could tell she wasn’t really interested in what I would say anyway, her mind has been made up and it was more like a ‘telling off’ rather a ‘what happened’ kind of a conversation. I tried to protest re the language but was told that they can do and just did order me to speak English at all times.
It was suggested to me that I take it all home, think about it and that we perhaps could get back together for further discussion.
Needless to say that I was immensely upset; although I was aware of some friction in my team, none of that was major and all this talk was a huge surprise to me. It’s a new team, everyone knew that my colleague and I share the language, and to be fair we asked in the beginning if us speaking our common native language would be a problem, and as far as we were aware no one had a problem with that.
To be honest the whole situation felt (and largely was) contrived and manufactured. My best guess would be that it was largely due to a then recent addition of a new member to the team, but I couldn’t prove that.
Either way, although the personality part of the telling of was quite hurtful, there was really nothing I could do but suck it up, keep my head down and really watch what and how I say and be careful not to upset anyone, which I thought I was doing anyway… but I am the only man in the team and was obviously doing something wrong…
I contacted this site for advice on the language matters. Once I was clear on the law, wrote a response to my employers addressing most things mentioned in the meeting as well as: “In the end of the conversation, you have instructed me to speak to XXXX in English only at work, because “it is rude to speak in a foreign language”, “it offends people”, “makes them feel excluded” and “they might think that we are talking about them”. I do not believe these are legitimate reasons to ask us to not speak our common native language when no one who does not speak that language is also party to the conversation. Respectfully, ***** ***** are able to show what objective justifications you, as employer, are relying on to show that it is a requirement for us to speak English between ourselves, I am afraid I won’t be able to comply.”
The letter was acknowledged by the MD and that was it for the time being.
The following few months were very difficult for me. What was once a very pleasant working environment suddenly became a very hostile one for me. I was very aware that any misstep would be reported back to the MD, and having fully taken the complainants’ side previously I had no doubt that she would react in the same manner if anything would happen again. Somehow the junior members of team were elevated above us, in ‘you need to follow their orders’ etc, as my manager had put in words.
On one occasion our manager told me that people have issue with us talking a foreign language. I said that this is one thing that won’t change and that I had written to the MD in this regard.(to be continued)
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
It became a norm to make fun of our language (ie making funny sounds when passing by, clearly imitating us speaking); saying that they would like to learn our language so they could understand what we’re talking about; a member of our team approached us when we were having a quiet private conversation asked to be part of it, etc.
It also became a norm for the female team members to be able say things like ‘I am in a man-hating mood’, ‘but that’s what women do (lash out at men)’, ‘I don’t know what they teach you in your country, but her we’re trained this way… (I am actually educated in London, to a MA degree)’, etc.
In other words, I started feeling as if I am being mistreated and antagonised (by one or two members or our team) basically because I am a foreigner and a man, refusing to heel. I could not help but feel being harassed, bullied and discriminated against. Quite subtly so and not in the open, with a threat of running to the MD with a complaint should I react… (I actually had an informal conversation with my manager at some point voicing my concerns; she laughed it off and very obviously did not want to deal with it.)
I guess, that happened last Friday after work. We (my colleague and I) had an argument with one of the girls. The manager got involved and we complained to her. It was all work related, there was no swearing, but apparently voices were raised. The worst thing was that the girl burst into tears and seemingly had a full on panic attack.
Coincidentally, Monday was last day of work for my friend as was leaving to go back to her home country, so I really I was left alone to deal with the situation and I believe that was the reason to only complain to the MD on Tuesday (yesterday).
Obviously it was all reported to the MD and yesterday I was called into her office. On entering I straight away noticed a ‘verbal notice’ form already filled in, which coupled with my previous experience indicated to me that her mind is already made up. Of course she asked to hear my side of the story but it was clear she didn’t want to hear anything. She twisted the issues and in the end it did come out that I had nothing to be unhappy about. Anyway she almost made out that I am a human being that is not worth to be living; I made a person cry and to experience a panic attack, etc. Once again, the girls in our team seemed to have ganged up against me and a lot of non-truths have been told.
The language thing came up again; she said that she was aware of the law but it would have been in my best interests to do as asked, it would have helped with the situation in the team (she ‘would have done that if it was her in my place’).
Well, I have been discriminated against in the past in my country and one of the reasons why I live in this country is so I am not discriminated against. So, giving up my right to speak my mother tongue is not something I am willing to do.
I was given the ‘Verbal Notice’ to sign, with such wording as ‘verbally attacked’, ‘aggressive’, ‘tears’, ‘crying’, ‘panic attack’. I queried the wording and said that I won’t sign anything like that. We had a disagreement, which got out of hand, admittedly it was heated, but no swear words were used, my friend and I remained in our seats and we did not behave in a threatening way. I also argued that perhaps, tears and the panic attack should not be in the equation, as I can’t really be responsible for the fact that someone is quick to cry? It is my understanding that there should be no ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ in the workplace, otherwise everything will always be a man’s fault because it is more likely that the female will be the crying party? My argument was not met kindly, the MD was clearly crossed with me disagreeing with her way of handling the situation and she kept repeating how ‘disappointed’ and ‘exasperated’ she was, but it was agreed that the wording would change and then the ‘Verbal Notice’ form would be given to me to sign.
I also tried to talk about the most likely root of the problem and that I felt mistreated, discriminated against and harassed by the members of our team, which she laughed at and said that everyone has a different personalities and I have to learn to get on with them. It would seem that the only person who can’t have a personality is me and all the compromise has to be mine, because I am the problem.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that I am completely in the right. I lost my temper and I should have known better. Perhaps I do deserve to be reprimanded although in my experience, we do not live in a Fairy Land and arguments, and personality clashes will happen etc.(to be continued)
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
My problem is that I am/ have been Directly Discriminated against by my employer, who apparently are aware of the fact and yet they still do it. Instead of explaining to anyone complaining, they seem to be endorsing this kind of behaviour. No wonder that some people are getting on a high horse and expecting everything to be their way? It is my opinion that if the management had put a brake on the issue from a get go, the whole situation would be very different.
To be honest, I seriously considered resigning the first time that had happened, but in general I like my job, am really good at it, love almost everyone in the company and get on really well with everyone (and have made quite a few good friends) but a couple of people what I work closest with, and I was hoping that if I suck it up for long enough, the situation would improve. It is instead getting worse.Once again, really sorry for a very long letter, but I felt that I have to tell the whole story for you to be able to advise me…Thank you!
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 1 year ago.

Thanks for the detailed response. So having read that can you now please clarify what specific queries you have in relation to it? Thanks

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Hi Ben, I was just re-reading and realising that I actually was unclear what I need your help with…
I guess what I am asking for your advice with is:
• During our conversation six months ago, my employer instructed me to speak English only at work (I’ve dealt with it at the time by refusing to do so in writing). Last time we spoke, my employer stated that they are aware of the fact that I have a right to speak my mother tongue as well as the law’s position regarding the issue, but that it would be beneficial to me if I followed their suggestion. That indicates to me that they knew they were discriminating against me from the start. I believe the whole situation stems from this and it is the management’s fault that some members of our team were allowed to believe that they were in the right when complaining about us communicating in our shared mother tongue, and when they felt that we were being rude, disrespectful and defiant.
• Is it normal that my complaints, although informal, were laughed off and ignored? I would have thought the issue is very serious and not really a ‘learn to get on with different personalities’ type?
• Is it normal that the ‘Verbal Warning’ form was filled in even before the MD had a chance to speak with me? To me is seems that it is not really fair to me as she had already made her mind based on complainants’ side of the story alone although supported by our manager? Just because she cried and experienced a panic attack? Nothing I say seems to make any difference.
• Do I have to sign the form if I don’t agree with the wording?
• Is crying or a panic attack a factor in a confrontation like this at all? I mean I am sorry she cried and had a panic attack, I had no way of knowing she would; another person would be able to deal with the argument without breaking down? I was and still am very upset about the whole thing too, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone?
What are my options?
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 1 year ago.

Is it normal that my complaints, although informal, were laughed off and ignored? I would have thought the issue is very serious and not really a ‘learn to get on with different personalities’ type?

Ideally, no they should not have been ignored but at the same time the employer may not agree with your perspective of the situation. Also if you had raised the issues informally here would be no legal obligation on them to deal with them, even if they were valid concerns. Ideally you need to raise a formal grievance, in writing, to have the issues dealt with formally

Is it normal that the ‘Verbal Warning’ form was filled in even before the MD had a chance to speak with me? To me is seems that it is not really fair to me as she had already made her mind based on complainants’ side of the story alone although supported by our manager? Just because she cried and experienced a panic attack? Nothing I say seems to make any difference.

A verbal warning is generally considered an informal step, just to give the employee an informal warning and often there is nothing wrong with having their mind made up with the outcome as there is no need for a formal and fair disciplinary procedure to be undertaken before it is issued, so I would not say I am too concerned about this

Do I have to sign the form if I don’t agree with the wording?

No you do not. You should only sign a document you are happy with. If you do not agree with the current contents then you do not have to sign it. You may propose whatever corrections you believe are necessary to make it agree with you and perhaps sign that and give it to the employer so that the only signed version they have is yours

Is crying or a panic attack a factor in a confrontation like this at all? I mean I am sorry she cried and had a panic attack, I had no way of knowing she would; another person would be able to deal with the argument without breaking down? I was and still am very upset about the whole thing too, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone?

In law, you are generally supposed to take people as they are, whether you knew about it or not. In law, this principle is known as the eggshell skull (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggshell_skull). So whilst it is unfortunate that she reacted in this way, you cannot really blame her if that was how she dealt with such situations.

What are my options?

You always the formal grievance option if you believe you are being treated unfairly due to your nationality or any other discriminatory reasons. In the end you if you cannot resolve matters internally, you only have the legal options open to you, such as making a claim in the employment tribunal.

I hope this has answered your query. I would be grateful if you could please take a second to leave a positive rating (3, 4 or 5 stars) as that is an important part of our process and recognises the time I have spent assisting you. If you need me to clarify anything before you go - please get back to me on here and I will assist further as best as I can. Thank you

Expert:  Ben Jones replied 1 year ago.

Hello, I see you have read my response to your query. If this has answered your question please take a second to leave a positive rating by selecting 3, 4 or 5 stars from the top of the page. I spend a lot of time and effort answering individual queries and I am not credited for my time until you leave your rating. If you still need further help please get back to me on here and I will assist as best as I can. Many thanks.

Ben Jones and other Employment Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Hi Ben, yes I did read your response last night, just needed some time to think it over...
Thanks for clarifying, and having read some more through the link that you supplied, I understand the issue much better.
Thanks for you help.
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 1 year ago.

you are welcome, all the best for now